Fork in the Road: J's Carryout enjoys 30 years of support

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EMPORIA, Kan. (WIBW)- Living in Emporia comes with a few unique perks -- one of which being spoiled for choice when it comes to tasty lunch stops.

Now, allow me to be a bit blunt for a moment: J's Carryout is not a big place, or at least not in the traditional sense.

Before it was known as J's, the little building situated on the corner of First and Commercial, just south of the railroad tracks, was the Duchess drive-in throughout the 1960s.

The old filling station-turned-diner was bought by Jay Pearson at a sheriff's auction in the 1980s, and the new restaurant opened on St. Patrick's Day, 1987.

"We didn't have much of a budget when we started," said Pearson. "We just kind of grew and grew over the years."

Since then, the customers have been nearly non-stop.

"It gets really really busy, and it stays busy most of the day," said Pearson.

The reason behind the constant influx of patrons?

"We patty it (our beef) fresh daily," said Pearson. "It's never frozen. We use a good grade of beef, ground sirloin works real well."

Another factor that's most likely contributing to J's success is a not-so-well-kept secret.

"We give out a free ice cream cone whenever you purchase a drink or sandwich or fries (or anything)," said Pearson.

They've been handing out ice cream since the restaurant opened, and it's one of the burger joint's most defining traits.

Pearson is humble when talking about his restaurant -- but J's has won several awards on both a local and regional level for their quality, including AAA naming J's the "best burgers in Kansas" at one point.

"We emphasize customer service," said Pearson. "We keep everybody's drinks full, try to recognize everybody when they come in."

Many customers, both local and otherwise, tend to agree with that statement.

"They used to do advertising on the radio, but they don't have to anymore," said Leo Pauls, a longtime Emporia resident and J's regular. "People come here regardless."

"It's just been really good to us," said Pearson. "We've really enjoyed it... it's a family business with my wife and sons, and it just seems to have worked out really well for us."

You'll want to head to J's a bit early if you want to beat the lunch rush, as the restaurant fills up quickly.

J's Carryout is open Monday thru Friday, 10:30 a.m. -- 7 p.m., and 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays.